In 2014, an enigmatic demo was released on the PlayStation Network called PT. The first-person horror game saw your character walking through a loop of the same stretch of corridor, each successive loop becoming more and more unbalanced, revealing more and more dark and terrible secrets. It was unlike anything anyone had ever played before and eventually revealed itself to be a playable teaser for Hideo Kojima & Guillermo del Toro’s planned Silent Hills.
Unfortunately, Hideo Kojima and published Konami parted ways quite acrimoniously in early 2015 , Silent Hills was cancelled and PT was deleted from the PlayStation Network.
Apparently, the creator of Infliction: Extended Cut played PT and wanted to go out of their way to make sure we know. But what Infliction has in terms of passion for Hideo Kojima’s lost masterwork, it lacks in the terms of that game’s masterful design. It brings me no pleasure to say that Infliction: Extended Cut is one of the worst horror games I have played this generation.
The story sees your character returning home to an empty house in order to find your wife’s airline tickets. Things are quiet and eerie until things go to Hell, as they are wont to do in these case.
At this point, the game flows in a straight forward manner, if you have played PT then you already know. You move from one part of the house to another, with only a select number of rooms open to you, with the goal of finding a certain object before you are accosted by a supernatural entity and find yourself in a different part of the house go start the process over.
While exploring you can find objects that unlock memories, further elucidating the story, and the actress performing the voiceover for these memories does a commendable job of trying to inject some humanity into the story. She is doing more than the game surrounding her really deserves.
The majority of your supernatural encounters will be scripted events, heavily telegraphed no less, so the outcome is completely out of your hands. In a horror movie, the feeling of powerlessness is part of the point, in a horror game it creates a complete disconnect from the moment. If I am being relentlessly pursued by a xenomorph in Alien: Isolation or Mr X in the Resident Evil 2 remake, I need to feel like I am in the moment and I have control over my own actions. My narrow escapes must be through my perseverance and my dreaded failures must be my own, otherwise, there is no tension. And while much of PT hinged on predetermined outcomes to your actions, that game was masterfully designed so that every loop enhanced the sense of disorientation, it toyed with your grip on reality to execute the scares. Infliction does not achieve this, randomly switching locations is not what PT was doing. Infliction replaces a sense of blind, helpless terror with simple apathy.
Eventually, the game introduced a vague facsimile of Alien: Isolation, where the entity periodically roams the house looking for you, and you have to either hide and avoid it or execute a very finicky trap to disable it for a while. Infliction runs into three key errors while trying to implement this new play style. Firstly, the hiding mechanic is inflexible to a frustrating degree. You can’t choose which way you face when you hide, in one key hiding spot you are forced to face away from the door so you honestly have no idea what is going on around you. Additionally, unlike something from the Outlast series, you only have a flashlight for a light source so if you need to turn that off in certain rooms you are plunged into complete darkness and you have no idea who is there, if the coast is clear, or if you are in mortal danger. The key to Alien: Isolation and Outlast being so scary is that you are acutely aware of the threats around you; Alien has the motion sensor, Outlast has night vision and, in the sequel, sound capture. Infliction obscures your situational awareness to a point that overshoots terror and lands squarely into confusion, not the panicky kind, just the frustrating kind.
This brings us to the second issue, the AI for the entity chasing you is very basic, it took a good five minutes of me hiding in one room for the spectre to even think of looking in my room. You hear it moving but it makes no attempt to find you. I turned a corner and saw the thing stood there, and there was a moment of stillness for a few seconds before the entity sprang into action to attack me. It was like being in a Halloween maze but the scare-actors were all distracted and forgot their cues, at a certain point you disconnect from the moment and it is no longer scary.
The third issue comes back to Infliction’s rather transparent desire to just be PT, the map is essentially a funnel to drive you towards the next moment, which makes it quite difficult navigating your way around the roaming horror that wants to kill you. This leads to a lot of awkward waiting to see if the thing has passed you or whether you are in a good position to spring a trap on it and buy yourself some time. The sound design is so vaguely implemented that it does nothing to clue you into the entities exact proximity to you so a lot of it is simply trial and error.
A good horror game will keep you on your toes but it won’t leave you there for so long that you get a cramp. It feels like every decision made with Infliction was completely counter-intuitive, nothing the game attempts manages to elicit a fear response, usually it is just a feeling of frustration or boredom. Perhaps that is the true root of Infliction’s nightmare; it is a game that traps you in the living hell of tedium.
The story attempts to delve into domestic abuse but suggests satanic influences at play rather than something more uncomfortably real. Was there a concern that the player would not want to continue playing if they had to reckon with a protagonist who had committed terrible acts? It only neuters the game's potential for an emotional punch, in the end, I felt nothing about the protagonist because I was never forced to reckon with his crimes.
I am the biggest mark for horror games imaginable, I can lose myself in the world of a horror game and get scared so easily, but Infliction did nothing for me. The initial exploration of the house had me on edge, fearing what might be waiting for me, but once the game tipped its hand to the sort of scares it would employ, I had mentally checked out.
Unfortunately, it turns out that simply reminding people of PT is not enough to earn a game the same level of success, it only makes people sad that they can no longer play PT.